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Top 10 Business Trends for Arts and Cultural Organizations for 2021


January 12, 2021
Keri Mesropov by TRG Arts

Given the catastrophic effects of the pandemic on the sector in 2020, the trends are intended to provide clarity and guidance to arts and culture executives and managers for strategic planning to revitalize and reimagine their organizations during the coming year. TRG Arts compiled the trends from the expert analysis of its senior consultants and the input of industry participants TRG has engaged with worldwide, including through its weekly TRG 30 webinar series, Executive Recovery Summits and client engagements.

“For creativity and audience participation to thrive in arts and culture, non-profit organizations must manage themselves in new ways” said TRG Chief Executive Officer Jill Robinson. “Since the existential threat posed by the pandemic, organizations are learning they have to cast off tunnel-vision and antiquated processes. To make it to the other side of COVID, they must do resiliency planning and relationship building. We look to forward these and other innovative approaches the sector will take this year to come back stronger than ever.”

TRG Arts forecasts the following Top 10 Business Trends for Arts and Cultural Organizations for 2021:

  1. The curtain won’t go up for many organizations. The timing of mass vaccines and related comebacks notwithstanding, many arts organizations that came into the crisis with weak balance sheets will fail. Those whose CFOs handled finances with a mindset overly focused on saving and compliance will shutter. Forward-looking organizations will hire entrepreneurial money managers who think about investment and return for stronger balance sheets and boldness in leveraging their money.

  2. Equity, diversity and inclusion will be integrated in all aspects of arts organizations. In everything from audiences to staffing, and programming to marketing and governance, equity, diversity and inclusion will be a priority not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they are also critical to an organization’s creativity and long-term success.

  3. Listening is the new talking. Organizational leaders will be more receptive than ever before to listening closely to their customers as well as the communities they serve. They will be prepared to take action to fulfill those needs with responses that are hypersensitive to their constituents.

  4. Artists will be in the spotlight—out front AND behind the scenes. Layoffs and furloughs caused by the pandemic have resulted in organizations relying more than ever on gig and freelance artists. These nimble, flexible contributors will have a greater voice in these less institutionalized organizations, and offer what they know best: creativity in solution-making.

  5. Organizations will build all-star line-ups. In the wake of layoffs and furloughs, organizations will focus on true talent development by using the opportunity to rebuild staffs with the talent they truly need, stop looking for talent that is ‘fine’ and ‘will accept this pay,’ and seek the best. They also will seek diversity in talent and thought to help accomplish greater goals and results. In addition, the Zoom work environment has permanently broken down silos and will enable leaders to recognize the valuable middle managers and rising stars in their midst.

  6. One size will not fit all with digital content and distribution. The adoption of digital content and distribution, initially relegated to younger audiences, has spread to older demographics as the pandemic has worn on. As a result, the arts and culture sector will expand its offerings to include developing nuanced packaging, pricing and experiences digitally that appeal to different generations.

  7. Donor development will help keep the lights on. Whether organizations were well supported or came up short with donations going into the shutdown, all will be focusing on this critical revenue source for interim support and once live performances return in full. Smart organizations will identify first-time givers from 2020 and find on-ramps to encourage them into deeper, long-term relationships by both recognizing and rewarding them for their support, and then guiding them into easy paths for annual giving.

  8. Arts managers will become asset managers. Patron relationships will be acknowledged as organizational assets as venues focus not only on transactions but more on the value of loyalty and growth in their databases. Since arts organizations with strong patron relationships thrive better through downturns, they will take time in 2021 to invest in the potential and cultivation of their database assets.

  9. Data geeks will rule. Organizations will expand their use of both internal and external data to increase patron loyalty, identify new revenue streams and benchmark against their peers to improve their resiliency and results. As the organization’s lifeblood, data fuels progress. A shift will take place in which organizations will stop stunting their own growth by talking themselves out of collecting data. Instead, data collection will be prioritized and new methods of collecting will be embraced.

  10. The 20’s will roar again! As the pandemic wanes, gathering will be the single most important activity people will engage in, and the arts will leverage and expand what it means to gather, whether in the theater or around events or organizations they love. Expect programming from stalwart frothy musicals to offerings that celebrate the diversity of artists and their audiences.

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